Why Do Cats Like Catnip

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As a responsible cat owner, you’ve probably treated your feline friend to one of those catnip-infused interactive toys and watched them go nuts for a while.

This reaction made you wonder ‘why do cats like catnip so much. Well, to explain it in simple terms, cats like catnip because it makes them feel good.

Continue reading through this guide to learn more intriguing facts about catnip, why our feline friends go crazy over it, and what to do if your cat doesn’t seem to react.

What Is Catnip?

Catnip, also known as Nepeta Cataria, is a herb in the mint family native to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

This herb has long been associated with cats, thanks to its active compound known as, nepetalactone which is responsible for the euphoric reaction in cats.

A brown cat in catnip plant
Image Credit: kingstondekater from Instagram

This active compound is an essential oil and can be found in the plant’s leaves, stems, and seeds. Cats can intensify the release of nepetalactone by bruising, chewing, or rubbing against a catnip plant.

Why Do Cats Like Catnip?

Cats love catnip because it gets them high with euphoric responses that change their mood, behavior, and feelings.

Scientists and researchers aren’t 100% sure why this happens, but many people believe cats respond to nepetalactone as though it is a feline pheromone.

It has been said that the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, acts like the pheromones used by cats to communicate or mark territories.

These pheromones are also related to getting female cats on heat, therefore causing an almost automatic response in cats.

When a cat smells catnip, their sensory neurons detect the nepetalactone molecule, which binds to the receptors on the sensory neurons lining the cat’s nose.

This action alone is responsible for the sensory neurons to stimulate activity in the reward center in the cat’s brain.

The neurological cascade of a cat on catnip is very prompt, producing a concise but intense sense of euphoria. The effects always come out as playful antics and vocalizations and sometimes drooling.

Do All Cats Respond to Catnip?

The most exciting thing about catnip is that it doesn’t have the same effect on all cats. Some cats can get high on catnip, others become more relaxed, while others show no effects at all.

It is believed that about 50-70% of the cat population show a response to catnip because of a genetic influence. About 30% of cats don’t show any effects of catnip at all.

The reaction, or lack of it, to catnip, is genetic and thus passed from kitty parents to kittens. Also, kittens at first don’t exhibit the reaction to the catnip until they become about 6 to 8 months old.

A cat pose for a photo in front of dried catnip
Image Credit: obiwanfloo from Instagram

Other members of the larger cat family are also known to react to this frenzy herb. Wild cats, lions, leopards, and tigers are all likely to succumb to the euphoric effects of catnip.

So, don’t worry if your feline friend seems less than enthused by this plant, it does not mean there’s anything wrong with them. Instead, some cats just don’t have the genetic material to appreciate it.

RELATED: How To Grow Catnip Plants Indoors & Outdoors

Is Catnip Bad for Cats?

No, catnip is perfectly fine for cats. Catnip is largely considered safe, and it also has several beneficial effects when given in moderation.

Catnip contains no harmful substances, and its effects are simply behavioral and temporary. Some cats may experience mild tummy problems, such as vomiting or diarrhea if fed large amounts of this herb.

Still, this is very rare and the side effects usually subside after a while. Just make sure to offer catnip in moderation and monitor your cat’s response over time.

Can Dogs Have Catnips?

Interestingly, catnip is not just for cats! Your canine friend can also have a tasty bite of this fragrant herb, albeit to achieve different results.

While most cats are revitalized with a catnip with energy and excitement, the same herb can make your dog calm down and relax.

Catnip can help reduce stress and anxiety levels in emotionally distressed dogs. Aside from the behavior, this fragrant herb can also be used as a mild sedative and to soothe upset stomachs.

If you’re curious to find out how your canine buddy responds, you can sprinkle a bit of the dried-up catnip on their food or infuse some fresh leaves in their drinking water.

Catnip is not bad for dogs. Like cats, not all dogs should respond to catnip. Therefore, you should not be worried if your canine friend just sits there without showing a reaction.

Are There Catnip Alternatives?

If your cat doesn’t respond to catnip, the following are some of the alternatives you can consider for a behavioral response.

Image Credit: Kitty Cat Club From Instagram

1. Silvervine

Also known as matatabi, this plant has compounds very similar to those found in catnip and gives a euphoric response in some cats that don’t get that response from catnip.

2. Tatarian honeysuckle

Another alternative is the wood from the Tatarian honeysuckle, which has a variety of compounds that can also trigger a playful response in some cats.

3. Valerian root

This plant is far less common than catnip, but it has been shown to produce an identical reaction for some cats.


So, why do cats like catnip? The answer is simple. Catnip has an active compound that makes cats feel good on sniffing, chewing, or rubbing against the plant.

Catnip highness is temporary and usually lasts for about 5 to 15 minutes, after which the cat becomes temporarily immune to its effects for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Keep in mind that not all cats will have the same euphoric reaction to catnip, and some will have no reaction at all.

Written By

Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.

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